CEDAR FALLS — In its most tightly contested game of the season, Northern Iowa overcame Missouri State’s three-quarter court defense with a number of late clutch shots and free throws.
The Panthers snapped the Bears’ three-game win streak with a 64-59 victory Saturday night at McLeod Center.
Following nine lead changes, UNI (10-13, 5-5) recaptured the advantage on a Tywhon Pickford layup with 7:08 to play. Spencer Haldeman — who scored a team-high 15 points (all in the second half) — extended UNI’s lead to two possessions with a 3, but Missouri State (11-12, 5-5) tied the game just over three minutes later at 53 on a Jarred Dixon 3.
Haldeman, who came up with late-game heroics in UNI’s previous two home games, did so again Saturday night. The junior guard’s first 3 with just under 12 minutes to play became a four-point play and put the Panthers in front by two. After Dixon’s game-tying 3, Haldeman scored six of UNI’s last 11 points.
Pickford scored the other five, the most clutch being a layup on a drop-off from Isaiah Brown after breaking the Bears’ press.
“So we’re 5 for 9 from (3) and one’s a four-point play later in the game at a key time when we were working to try to get a possession … get a little bit of room,” UNI coach Ben Jacobson said. When you aren’t going to get many (3s), you’ve got to take advantage of them and (Haldeman) did tonight.”
Bears leading scorer Tulio Da Silva, a likely candidate for Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, scored a game-high 17 points, but was limited to just five in the second half. Luke McDonnell and Justin Dahl both matched up against Da Silva, but McDonnell played 30 minutes, including the final 12:56.
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“Coaches talked a lot about staying down on the shot fake,” McDonnell said. “And then going against (assistant coach) (Seth) Tuttle everyday in practice, I mean, not everyone gets the chance to play against an All-American everyday in practice so that’s a tough assignment as it is.”
After yet another clutch performance, Haldeman was too humble after the game to accept the “closer” label.
“I think it just comes down to making plays when plays need to be made,” Haldeman said. “Especially down the stretch. I wouldn’t say I’m a “closer,” (but) I mean, if a shot comes down the stretch (I’m) just having the confidence to take the shot.”
Northern Iowa returns to action Wednesday night at 7 p.m. when it hosts Bradley (11-12, 3-7).